Commissioners delay vote on landfill expansion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Mower County Commissioners continue to scrutinize the land use issue request involving Veit Demolition Landfill Facility-Austin LLC.

Already inundated with maps, conceptual drawings, letters, reports, surveys, petitions and testimony from the county planning commission as well as two meetings of their own, the commissioners have decided to play it safe and ask for more time to make a decision.

With the consent of the petitioner, Veit, the county board has chosen to delay action for 30 days.

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That decision came Tuesday after another 90 minutes of public discussion. Earlier Tuesday, the commissioners visited the demolition landfill that has caused the controversy. A week ago, they spent 3 1/2 hours taking testimony and reviewing evidence before voting to delay action the first time. Two weeks ago, the Mower County Planning Commission conducted its own public hearing and voted to recommend -- by a 4-2 vote with one member abstaining -- granting Veit a CUP to expand its demolition landfill operations.

"I think it was a good decision," said Garry Ellingson, 5th District county commissioner and chairman of the county board, on delaying the vote.

Ellingson made it a point to allow Bill Ryther to have all his concerns addressed at Tuesday morning's visit to the Veit site.

"I wanted him to be sure all of his questions were asked and that he got answers to every one of them," Ellingson said.

Ryther and his wife, Bonnie, live next door to the landfill along U.S. Highway 218. They have been opposed to the landfill in its original form and are now opposed to the Veit request to renew that permit and to expand its operations to three times the current size.

"We're still waiting for the fat lady to sing," said Bill Ryther at the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting. "This ain't over yet."

What did happen Tuesday was this: The commissioners rejected the Rythers' petition to require Veit to submit an environmental assessment worksheet.

Richard P. Cummings, 1st District, made the motion and Ray Tucker, 2nd District, seconded it. All five commissioners voted "Aye."

Then Cummings, in whose 1st District the landfill is located, made a motion to deny the CUP request on the grounds that it would adversely impact land values. Dick Lang, 4th District, seconded it.

At that moment, the Rythers came as close to victory in their fight with the landfill since it opened five years ago.

Cummings and Lang each voted to deny the CUP request, while David Hillier, 3rd District, Tucker and Ellingson all voted against the motion and it failed.

The vote climaxed an hour of public hearing that saw some surprises in the often contentious debate.

Len Miller, former 4th District county commissioner, returned to the debate on behalf of the Lansing Township Board.

Miller cited Minnesota rules, concerning setbacks and environmental concerns, in an impassioned plea to reject the reject.

"There is no further use for that land once they do their reclamation," Miller said. "What they're putting into the ground is a forever thing."

Then, Jon Erichson, Austin's director of public works, argued against the CUP request.

Armed with a letter singed by Austin Mayor Bonnie Besse Rietz, Erichson said the request failed to satisfy the county's own goals and objectives for a rural management district under the county's newly revised comprehensive plan.

Roger Levy, a Lansing Township Board supervisor, said the close proximity of another demolition landfill -- owned and operated by SKB Ltd. adjacent to the Veit site -- "demanded" an environmental assessment (EAW) worksheet be conducted on its potential environment impact.

Scott Vandenheuvel, environmental manager for Veit, had the task of responding to both the citizens' and the county commissioners' inquiries.

While rejecting the call for an EAW, Veit's attorney Jack Perry said the firm was willing to pay for an environmental review and to abide by its findings. The review incorporates some of the information called for in an EAW, but is not the same.

Cummings asked Vandenheuvel and Perry if the petitioner would be willing to withdraw the request for a renewal and expansion of the CUP and submit two new requests: one for renewal of the current landfill's CUP and another for another landfill encompassing the over 50 acres Veit has acquired.

The answer was "no."

When Mower County Attorney Patrick W. Flanagan joined the argument, he recommended a strategy for avoiding a court battle with Veit. The obvious strategy, though unspoken, was to grant the request, because current Minnesota law did not allow it to be rejected because of a lack of material evidence, according to Flanagan.

Tucker asked the Veit representatives if they were willing to waive the 50-day requirement for a decision.

"I think we need to go slowly," he said. "The additional time will allow us to investigate further."

And, the Veit attorney, Perry, agreed.

"Even though," he said, "it's 30 days beyond what I was authorized

by my client."

The decision -- a motion by Cummings and seconded by Tucker -- to continue the hearing until 11 a.m. June 10 was unanimous.

Both by the county commissioners and both sides in the dispute in the audience.

(Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at